Drumming For The Song

"Open The Eyes Of My Heart" in French

Deep worship w/ Paul Baloche Band

Ah, yes,,, another seminar and concert event has finished.  Great teaching sessions and nights of worship have been followed with many discussions about technical & spiritual matters. Questions about how to tune the drums or what equipment do I prefer are fairly common. Also comments about how certain songs touched people or the positive team spirit of the band are heard. But the most popular topic here, by far, is the “busy drummer syndrome.”  This doesn’t mean keeping the calendar full of appointments either. No, sadly, I frequently talk with worship leaders, music directors, and other musicians about their drummers “over-playing.”

OK, drummers, here’s the deal! Most people don’t want to hear a fill every two bars. They don’t care how hard you’ve practiced to play those 32nd note patterns or to “nail” the solo from your favorite drum recording.

They just want you to PLAY THE SONG!  Keep the tempo steady, and play the tune the way you hear it on the recording, AND THAT’S IT! **The bold letters mean that I’m shouting… Oh, I’m sorry,,, I mean,,, speaking with a strong emphasis. Actually, I’d pull my hair out except that I shave my head now and have nothing left to grab.  Why is it that so many drummers don’t get this? … It is a mystery.

You may have heard me say this before but it’s worth repeating. I always tell my students and clinic attendees to “Play music, NOT drums.” Serving the song and your team is your primary objective. If you think those things are suppose to serve you and give you a way to show-off your “sweet drumming skills” you’ve got it all wrong.  Gosh!!!

Now I know I’m making a big deal out of this, but it IS a big deal. Making the song sound great is EVERY musician’s job. If that is your heart about being a drummer people will love your playing.  If the music calls for a lot of activity then go for it… but if it’s just playing grooves for tunes, then master that skill as well.

Every great drum icon I’ve seen & heard made the whole band sound fantastic. Especially working with singer/artist types they always play for the song, and it is a magical experience. Drummers often think that their drum hero must be very restrained in their ability to just play songs. “They must be bored out of their mind! … I wish they could really cut loose!” But, you know, the “regular” people listening never think of it like that. The non-musical folks are just enjoying and experiencing the music.

So, how do you keep from falling into the “busy drummer syndrome?” The first thing I do is just copy what has already been done. Listen to the original recordings and just do what they do. It’s that simple. And yes, SIMPLE is usually the operative word. Most songs are arranged very carefully. Check out any of your favorite artists or worship recordings and you’ll hear what I mean. Intros, verses, choruses, etc. etc. all seem to have specific musical ideas happening. Play it just like that.

Yea, I know, you’re thinking… “But Carl, that’s sooooooo boring!!

I want to add some flash to it; put some of my own personality into it! Man, I’ve got to express myself!” Arghhhhhhhhh!   Get over this attitude as soon as possible. Express yourself at home! Blow off that creative drive during your practice time. Otherwise, just play the songs.

Doing a great job IS expressing yourself. It is the most mature thing you can do as a musician. Making great music and bringing the songs to life is what it’s all about. There is not one artist that I’ve worked with that doesn’t feel the same way about this subject.

Another way to battle this illness is to talk to your worship leader or music director and ask if what you’re playing is working for them. If you’ve started with the recording as your reference they’ll usually like what you are doing. But there are times they do want a little more activity just to add energy to certain songs. Don’t get carried away though. This is not permission for you to become a “drum monster.” (You know, the big creature stepping on everything that gets in its way.) Yes, you must ask them. Sometimes people are afraid to talk to you about your playing because everyone knows how sensitive musicians can be.

Recording your rehearsals and performances is also a great tool. Video tape it if you can, but do something so you can go back and check out how it went. Be honest with yourself and make note of both your great and bad moments. Let others review your recording as well. Then change anything you need to in order to make your performance even better.

Finally, practice groove ideas with a click track for eight bars without any changes. Only do fills at the end of an eight bar phrase, and then maybe go to a variation of the groove for the next section. Do not even do fills in the 4th measure. This is an exercise in restraint. Not physically difficult, but it can be a real mental challenge. Do it! Listen closely to how consistent you are with EVERY element of your playing. Do the snare hits sound exactly alike? Is your hi-hat pattern maintaining a steady pace? Does the bass drum perfectly line up with your hands and sound solid? Put your playing “under the microscope” and perfect every element to the best of your ability.

OK, so you say you’ve heard it all before.— Great. — BUT,,, are you doing it? Are you really honing in on your musical artistry? Do not become complacent or rest on yesterday’s accomplishments. Keep moving ahead. Improve what talent you already have.

1.    Copy the drummers on great recordings.

2.    Ask for honest feedback from those you work with.

3.    Record yourself all of the time and review it.

4.    Practice the 8 bar phrase concept with a click.


Playing simple great grooves is NOT as simple you may think. It takes a strong, mature player to do this. But the pay-off is amazing. The whole band is going to sound better. Your singers are going to love how open and spacious the tunes feel. And you should feel more confident and solid in your performance.

Again, remember it’s all about the music. Play what’s right for the style of songs your doing and you’ll be honored amongst your peers.









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About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.


  1. Carl,

    You have done a great job expressing your thoughts on this subject. I love playing bass with drummers that “get it” like you do.

    It is such a blessing to be able to _be_ a blessing with our music, eh?!

  2. Good article Carl. I think a big part of the problem with overplaying is that the younger drummers tend to evaluate themselves and other drummers based on their chops. So, they demonstrate their chops as often as possible thinking that everyone will think they are a good drummer.

    Where as music directors and band leaders tend to evaluate drummers on how well they groove and keep time.

    • Yea, good point. Even us “experienced” players have to keep this in mind also. 🙂 — Although we might hear young players do too much, I’ve also heard older musicians forget this as well. A good musical experience is about great music, played by a great ensemble, sounding as one.!

  3. Hi Carl, great article. Having been to one of your workshops I know you are consistent in telling us to listen to what the worship leader wants, that it’s about serving more than just playing. So, what advice do you have for one drummer addressing this with another on the worship team? It is an issue in our church, and the other drummer on our team is a good player but over drums to the point of distraction. We get stuck behind electronic drums so that they can turn down the volume, but it doesn’t address the over drumming….it’s just quieter! Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. Mike

    • Hm.. that’s tricky… Challenging each other is part of building a team (band). I would always check with the leader first to see if they are dealing with it… OR if they even want to deal with it. (Always honor authority structures) // If you’re OK’d to proceed, then “in private”, politely discuss with the other player what is happening musically. They may receive it well or … maybe not… be prepared. // BUT in any case, be kind. If someone knows you care, and have their best interest at heart,,, AND that you want everyone to be blessed… then, this person is more than likely going to receiving your suggestion(s). ( “Iron sharpens iron”) I’ve been sharpened quite a few times in my journey. 🙂 Blessings, Carl

  4. Matt Harrell says

    Awesome! I’m thankful that I just get this naturally and I’m timid about throwing too many fills in on Sunday. On a regular Sunday service I genuinely feel like fills are unnecessary and in my experience can really distract people from properly directed worship.

    Great reminder…

    • Fills aren’t bad… it’s just the motivation we have when playing that matters. Be faithful in developing all the talents the Lord has given you… just remember it’s about serving. Peace, Carl

  5. Mike Fair says

    I once heard someone say a drummer that can do great solos is cool but a drummer who can keep the beat stays employed.

    Thanks for this article. I’ve only been playing for around four years but the last thing I want to do as a drummer is hinder the spirit in the worship service. I think too many drummers don’t get that. It’s not about playing in a band it’s about helping people worship the Lord.

    Thanks for the practice tips. Always looking For ways to get better.

    • LOL.. yea, I’ve heard that one too. 🙂 // — Blessings as you grow in your gifts; all of them; … staying focused on serving & helping is a good way to keep everything in it’s place – musically & personally. Press ON, — Carl

  6. Dan Gross says

    Great advice Carl.

    Only caveat to “play like the record:” if you can, consistently. Occasionally there will come along a sweet riff that lies at the edge of a player’s ability. As you said, keep the beat first.

    The only other thing that I’d add is that you should also drum “for the band.” I play very differently with a 3 piece “power trio” than I do with a 16 piece swing band. Ditto worship team configurations. What might work when you have electric guitar and keys will not necessarily work playing the same song in a more acoustic worship configuration. As you’re saying, complement what’s going on around you, be musical.

  7. Carl, great insight and since Paul Baloche posted this link on his twitter he must believe you practice what you PREACH or emphasize LOUDLY. You are a great drummer with a great groove and ability to play the song and LISTEN to the leader and team. I think LISTENING is the key. I watched Bryan Taylor (a great drummer) who plays with Tommy Walker do this very thing – LISTEN to the leader, listen to the song and the movements, add dynamics or not. I am an older drummer and find lots of younger drumers don’t know how to use cymbals, rims, hot rods, brushes and the like to enhance a part of the song – playing the song and not playing overplaying. There is a problem: Drummers who are worship leaders. It is hard doing lead vocals adn drumming and not speeding up when you get excited or if the melody line has tons of words. When singers attempt to speed up, the bass, rythm guitar and drums can keep them in the pocket, but if the drummer is the lead singer…….help us. OH sometimes that is me. Thanks Carl great stuff. PS: speaking or clinics, I was in your clinic at Saddleback Worship Conference a few years ago. Your chops are great and your heart – even better.

  8. Tom Cupp says

    Good advice that bears repeating, for the benefit of new drummers coming up as well as the older guys. Thanks!

  9. Hey Carl!

    Great stuff! And might I point out that I think it pretty much applies to ALL the team members in their various instruments as well. I’m going to point my entire worship team to this article. Thanks for keeping it real, and keeping us all humble! (right where we SHOULD be!)

    Worship Leader/Lead Guitarist (yup, I’m a busy guy!)

  10. Bobby McGlown says

    Interesting insight, Carl…you bring up quite a few interesting points regarding the drummer’s place in a band. It’s especially compelling, considering that role within the context of a praise band. Should he/she merely be a timekeeper, with minimal embellishments going into a chorus?

    The issue I have is that drumming-at least within the context of Contemporary Christian Music-is being ‘dumbed down’ to the point that it’s bland, generic soybean. My wife and I have quite a few Christian CDs in our collection. As I listen to them, I’m repeatedly struck by how ‘streamlined’ the drumming is. On the average Hillsongs CD, a ‘chop’ segueing into the chorus is merely a couple of flams. Yet, the gist of what I read in your diatribe suggests that drummers should stop “showing off” , and use the album as a strict template for how to play.

    A guitarist or keyboard player, when indulging during an instrumental solo or break, is frequently regarded as “anointed”. Is the role of the drummer, then, that of being strictly a background ‘support’ musician? While I agree that any musician should play for the music, a few chops, tastefully rendered, will enhance the song rather than detract from it.

    I’ve encountered this attitude quite a few times during my three-plus decades of playing. More often than not, it’s come from sub-par drummers who, rather than acknowledge their lack of chops, throw up a spiritual ‘smokescreen’, acting as if they are above indulging themselves with those ‘superfluous’ chops. If you can’t tastefully integrate those chops into your playing, then don’t knock those who can!

    • Yes, I understand where you’re coming from… It’s cool to add more when needed. AND it’s important to develop your musical vocabulary to be able to do whatever the music calls for… BUT, that’s exactly what any player should focus on. “What is really called for?” — If it’s just great grooving with a lot of space; so be it! — BUT, If you have to do a lot of intricate ideas, then be prepared for that when the time comes. — Don’t let the current styles of simple grooving give you the excuse to NOT work on your skill… – the Lord wants our best in any setting. Play with passion no matter how many notes are needed! Blessings, Carl

  11. Tom Lauben says

    So well put Carl! The essence of what you said applies so well to every member of the worship band. It really comes down to humility – llooking out for the interests of others before yourself just as Jesus did. If the main purpose of playing worship music is to glorify God, then to do it with the character of His Son couldn’t please Him more 🙂 Thanks so much for your ministry. You are a true blessing!

  12. I think the point is…if you want to be uber creative, blow chops and really stretch find the right group to do it with. Don’t make the church band your place to experiment unless they are cool with that.

  13. Thanks for the reminder Carl. I needed to hear that advice. I’ve been playing in my church band for 3 years now and lately I’ve been trying to spice things up by playing more complex rhythems when maybe the simple straight rhythem might have been a better fit. While reading your article i was reminded of several instances where my worship leader asked me to play something differently. I think it may have been one of those situations where I was trying to add something that wasn’t necessary to the song. I’ve never been a heavy handed drummer. In fact my sound tech always say the like my style because they can control the volume better. But I need to be reminded that playing the song as it is written and recorded is probably what the congregation expects to hear and it doesn’t bring attention to me. The last thing I want to be is a source of distraction. God Bless you brother. I pray God continues to bless your ministry and I hope to be able to attend another one of your workshops sometime in the future.

  14. Wow! I’ve been reminded once again.. It’s a big “OUCH” for me actually.. I really need to control my emotions. Hmm… But thanks for this article Carl. It’s such a great help for me and even to my disciples.

    More powers,
    Cecil Gee

  15. Thank you very much for the article. My service is just tommorow and I’ve been struggling during the rehearsal and until before I read this article.
    My leader seems to be demanding of how I play the drums, but as a young drummer, I often be selfish and tend to show off 🙁 . But with her drum playing style that I’m not used with, I foudn it really hard to ‘show off’. So I was confused and find an article of Christian Drumming on the internet, and found this :D. Guess it’s been God’s plan for me to meet this article.
    I think I will have to serve God with her style and not trying to pull out those fills/beats (that I want to experiment with) that aren’t matching with the WL’s style. And I do agree with the ‘respect authority structure’ and shouldn’t rebel =p
    Thanks 😀

    Richard, 18 years old

    • Hey Richard, Thanks for your kind & thoughtful note. We all need reminders on occasion, at any age, of what our primary duty is as a drummer/ musician.
      If we live to love & serve God, and love & serve people our lives will honor the Lord. Keep up the good work. (Even when playing simpler, play with passion… put your heart & soul into everything.) Peace, Carl

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